Fantastical folklore: 'Why There are No Noyontara Flowers in Agargaon Colony' by V Ramaswamy

The stories themselves bear an unusual tone that lends them a haunting quality.

Published: 06th November 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th November 2022 03:27 PM   |  A+A-

V. Ramaswamy

V. Ramaswamy

Express News Service

Shahidul Zahir was never a household name when it came to Bengali literature, but the English translation of a collection of his Bengali short stories, Why There are No Noyontara Flowers in Agargaon Colony by V Ramaswamy, promises to change that.

Speculation and fear over the authenticity of the text getting lost in translation are natural, but Ramaswamy manages to alleviate the apprehensions early on with his playful treatment of the languages, both English and Bangla. His call to retain several native words ensures that the original flavour
of the stories remain unaltered.

He claims so himself in the Translator’s Afterword. The stories themselves bear an unusual tone that lends them a haunting quality. Zahir has taken characters and elements from everyday life to tell magical, mythical tales that are transportive.One story in particular that stayed long after this reviewer was done with the book was ‘The Fig-Eating Folk’, about a magician who sells addictive figs. Its unusual ending sets it apart from the other stories in the collection.

The story that lends the collection its title, ‘Noyontara Flowers in Agargaon Colony’, is also noteworthy. It explores, in a layered structure, the ideas of existence, reality, as well as the relationship between man and nature.

Misfits and lonely individuals populate the world Zahir creates with his lucid writing. Oftentimes they do not seem comfortable in their own skins. That the author conjures his protagonists with a confident finesse, not just helps his fictional characters come to life, but also makes them relatable. Mostly set in Dhaka, the tales are infused with the essence of local folklore, but the author manages to make them his own. He imbues them with an essence of contemporary politics, but the tropes never feel stale.

Zahir is visibly a keen observer of human nature;  his intricately sensitive portrayal of his characters is proof. One wonders if these are stories about individual heroism or collective failure. The refreshing quality of the author’s storytelling makes the mundane seem profound, sometimes leaving the reader befuddled.

‘The Woodcutter and the Ravens’ will perhaps remind Bengali readers of Thakurma’r Jhuli, a popular collection of stories in Bengali for children. In these worlds, the fantastic predominate, as do
bizarre beasts and birds. The past is frequently mentioned and a sense of what was, or might have been like, mostly Edenic, sets in.

If read in a single sitting, like one long tale, the book evokes a sense of surrealism, sometimes a feeling of nostalgia-induced loss. Zahir, through his prose, has the ability to make the readers revisit and reevaluate some of the most important truths of life, if only one is keen enough to wander into his world believingly.



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